Monday, 1 July 2013

The rights of man - more Thomas Paine

Last year I wrote about Thomas Paine, the first New Atheist, having just read his book 'The Age of Reason' which was decades ahead of its time when written in the 1790s.  I hadn't followed up the subject very much until this week I heard an interview on The Pod Delusion (episode 193) with actor Ian Ruskin (starting at time stamp 14:32).  Ruskin is putting on a one-man play about the life of Thomas Paine, and if I was in London (and not working that evening) I might have made the journey to Conway Hall.

I have often wondered where the concept of human rights came from.  The very idea that humans had irrevocable rights has only gained much traction in the last hundred years or so, even though there were hints of it in the previous century.  I have even quizzed a visiting human-rights lawyer on the topic - although I didn't actually get any useful information from her.

Hearing more about Paine's work I am beginning to realise that he played a very significant part in the development of human rights thinking.  He might not had been the originator of all the concepts that he wrote about, but by distilling them into a book called 'The Rights of Man' he certainly brought them to the attention of the people.

Ruskin says that Paine deliberately chose not to protect the commercial rights to his work and that by doing so it meant that the books and pamphlets were circulated much more widely than they otherwise would have been.  Although not exactly a pauper at the time of his death, he was certainly not a wealthy man either.

He can also be remembered for a quotation that is still relevant today.

“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” 

The latter part certainly applies in UK at the moment.

1 comment:

AWDods said...

Excellent comments.
I look forward to seeing Ruskin's performance of Paine and meeting him at Conway Hall on 7/7. I didn't see the ticketing link in your post so here it is:
Very reasonable.